WELS Hymnal Project

Project Blog

Insights, analysis, techniques, opinions, and experiences from the team behind the WELS Hymnal Project.

A few questions on the recent survey to pastors dealt with rites. Included in the “rites” category are Sunday services, devotions, prayers, and services for special occasions (confirmation, weddings, funerals, and many others).

First, let me say thanks again to all the pastors who took time to fill out the recent survey. All of us on the Rites Committee serve as parish pastors, and we realize that time is in short supply. We’re grateful to you for sharing your thoughts. Please allow me to offer a few comments in light of what you wrote.

You’re using what’s in the books.

While there are some pastors who craft their own rites for special occasions or for Sunday services, most pastors in our synod, it seems, often use what’s already there. A very high percentage of you reported that you often utilize the rites and prayers in Christian Worship, in Christian Worship Altar Book (CWAB), Christian Worship Occasional Services (CWOS) and Christian Worship Pastor’s Companion (CWPC). You likely modify these rites based on circumstances, but you often turn to them.

This leads me to conclude two things. First, few, if any, are suggesting that we throw everything out and start from scratch. Should we make updates and modifications? Yes, but we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to our hymnal resources. Second, whatever is in the books had better be good! Since many pastors turn to these resources often, we need to ensure that what you’re turning to is of high quality.

You’d like more options.

Many of you offered suggestions for additional rites, prayers and service settings. Some examples, along with some thoughts in response to what you wrote:

  • Prayer of the Church. For this longer prayer, some would like more options that reflect, if only briefly, thoughts in the Scripture lessons for the day. Many make use of the LC-MS “Let Us Pray” resources, as well as prayers by authors in our synod. Could we add more Prayer of the Church options for variety’s sake? Even options for specific, non-festival Sundays?
  • The Prayer of the Day (traditionally called the “collect”). These historic prayers, many of which have been used for well over a millenium, are appreciated because of their concise, expressive language and deep roots. Nevertheless, you would like alternatives, especially some that connect more closely with the Scripture lessons of the day.
  • Festival services. Many would like to see more service settings for festivals and commemorations throughout the year, like Ascension, Christmas Eve (something besides Lessons and Carols), Reformation, Pentecost, Thanksgiving and others. I could see a digital compendium being an ideal place for such services; imagine a website where special services were regularly posted. Fresh ones could be added every few years. However, I wonder about including many such services in a print edition. Take a special Reformation order of service, for instance. Would it be widely used for a couple years, but then be considered “old hat” after that? The number of special festival service settings and in what format they’ll be offered--we’ll need to think more about that, but we realize it is something many pastors would value.
  • Service settings for main Sunday services. Quite a few mentioned using service settings by David Haas and Marty Haugen. Fresh musical settings are definitely something we’re looking into. These settings should be relatively easy to learn, accessible to people with varying levels of musical training (even no training at all), and generally singable. And they should “wear well,” being useful for many years. That’s a tall order, but we consider it a very important part of our work.
  • Service elements. Not only would you like new options for whole services, but also for parts of the service. An example would be alternate forms for confession and absolution -- some even hearkened back to the confessional service in The Lutheran Hymnal. We could note that CWOS has Corporate Confession, but perhaps you’re saying that you’d like more such options in the main hymnal for easy reference and regular use. Alternate forms for other portions of the service would be appreciated, too.
  • Options for other services. Many would like more options for midweek services, such as those in Advent and Lent. The current Evening Prayer (Vespers) and Prayer at the Close of Day (Compline) services can work well, but a few more options would be appreciated. Likewise for chapel services: the current devotions in CW and the newer ones in CWS are certainly useful, but more sound alternatives would be used, too.

One thing to remember is that there will always be a need for pastors to adapt and even compose services and prayers. As many rites as we may add, the unique needs of every congregation and mission field will require rites-related work. But the hymnal project will aim to help pastors in that work.

Finally, I’d encourage pastors to take another look at the current Christian Worship resources. Did you know that in CW Altar Book there’s a Prayer of the Church for Good Shepherd Sunday? (It’s at the very end of a section.) Did you know there’s an alternate funeral service in CW Occasional Services? That there’s a rite in the same book for receiving new members, either by transfer or by adult confirmation? That in CW Pastor’s Companion there are prayer suggestions for congregational meetings? Many pastors do know about these resources, but, based on survey responses, some do not. I’d encourage all pastors to glance at the table of contents in these books. Order them for your congregation if you don’t have them; they will be used often in the next decade before new resources are released.

Thanks again, pastors, for your responses. Please continue to share your thoughts. May the Lord bless your labor!

In a paper presented to the WELS Institute for Worship and Outreach in May of 2013, I wrote,

For the research and planning phase I am looking for a focused and interactive approach. I want our committee to discover 25 congregations who represent the ideal target for our planned digital worship compendium and planning application. These congregations should represent the vast middle of WELS and not edge cases. Their needs are common and also specialized. Their culture demands excellence and so we must provide the best. Their active worship ministry means that they struggle with the kinds of challenges we are working to solve. They are comfortable using current technology to serve their congregation. Their needs, their experience, and their feedback will give us the information we need to build something for them. By building something that works for those 25 congregations we build something that works for everyone.

The time has come to discover those 25 congregations. We are now accepting applications to be part of the focus group that will help the Technology Committee complete its work. Congregations in the focus group will help us determine the most common worship technology needs in WELS congregations. Congregations in the focus group will help us refine our vision for what the digital side of the future hymnal must do.

Before you write this effort off as something for only the most tech savvy congregations, I’d like to point out that we’re really looking for congregations whose ministry represents what most WELS congregations are like. We’d even like to have a congregation or two that are very methodical in their adoption of technology. This effort is about helping the Technology Committee learn what kind of real-life people will be using the hymnal in common, real-ministry situations.

If you and your congregation are willing to pitch in and do some work with us, please apply. You and your congregation can help shape the design of our future hymnal’s digital resources.

The application period closed on April 30, 2014.

You know what happens in your home congregation, but you wonder whether it is like that everywhere else. Your congregation, accompanied by the organ, nearly always sings the appointed psalm from Christian Worship with the pastor singing the first line of each verse and the congregation responding with the second line. Everyone in worship sings the refrain and the “Glory be to the Father.” Is that what every other congregation does?

From a comprehensive survey of WELS pastors, it turns out that only about one-third of WELS congregations handle the psalm that way. About 90% of congregations sing the psalm from Christian Worship (CW) or Christian Worship Supplement (CWS) every Sunday, but most of them do it in unison, not responsively.

Fewer than half of the congregations use a choir to help with the psalms, and those that do use a choir often do it only sporadically.

What It All Means for the Psalmody Committee

Those statistics have implications for the Psalmody Committee’s work. If we are going to produce a hymnal that meets the needs of WELS congregations, the arrangements of the psalms in that hymnal are clearly going to have to be singable by the average person in the pew. Psalm settings with a melodic arrangement of the verses sung by a choir or cantor will likely be provided, but probably in supplemental resources rather than the main hymnal that rests in the pews.

What About Musical Variety?

The psalms in CW all have the same type of musical setting (two-part chant line). The psalms in CWS introduced one other type of musical setting (four-part chant line). Do people like those settings, or are they bored of them? It was interesting that 96% of the pastors rated those settings as good or excellent.

Those statistics indicate that the Psalmody Committee should introduce any new musical settings very carefully. It appears to be OK to preserve the musical styles what we have already learned. Perhaps we could expand the number of psalms available to congregations in musical styles that they already recognize.

We have heard from some congregations that they struggle with singing the psalms at all. The Psalmody Committee may be able to help those congregations with speaking the psalms or with singing a hymn based on a given psalm.

In Summary

The Psalmody Committee is grateful to those who filled out the survey and helped us in our preparation of the psalms, which will always be a wonderful resource for Christian worship. We understand that there are more surveys of various groups to come, and we look forward to seeing those results as well.